Kiwis clash over troubled US firm

By Karyn Scherer

David Teece was the only LECG board member to oppose a merger. Photo / Paul Estcourt
David Teece was the only LECG board member to oppose a merger. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Former New Zealand Finance Minister Ruth Richardson earned nearly $200,000 last year as a director of a prominent US consulting firm which has since disclosed financial difficulties.

Documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission reveal she earned more than US$125,000 in fees and stock options in 2008 for being on the board of consulting firm LECG.

The firm provides strategic and financial advice to governments, law firms and Fortune 500 companies, and also provides expert witnesses for court cases. It has a branch in New Zealand, and recently produced a report on New Zealand's venture capital industry.

The company has struggled in recent years and in August disclosed plans to merge with a rival firm.

Draft documents relating to the merger proposal show the company has been looking at new ownership options for more than two years. They state that the company's reliance on a revolving credit facility could lead to a breach of its banking covenants, according to its financial position at the end of June.

LECG's share price has plunged from more than US$20 in 2005 to around US$3.50, following a series of quarterly losses.

The documents also show the New Zealand-born academic who co-founded the company, David Teece, appears to have fallen out with its board over the merger proposal.

Teece, who was the businessman behind the buyout of the Canterbury clothing brand 10 years ago, co-founded LECG in 1988. Although he is mostly based in the United States, he continues to have business interests here.

On August 13, the company announced it had terminated Teece's employment. It said he would remain on the board until the next annual meeting "or his earlier resignation", but the next day abolished his then position of vice-chairman.

The company has not revealed whether the termination was "for cause", which would mean Teece would have to repay most of the US$10 million bonus he received two years ago as part of a seven-year retention agreement he signed with LECG.

However, it has revealed that he earned US$5.5 million last year in fees, stock options and other compensation in his role as both a director and an employee of the company.

Teece was born and educated in New Zealand and has become a prominent academic in the US.

In a 1999 New Yorker article, he was credited as a key figure behind some of Tony Blair's economic policies. He has provided expert witness in several high-profile court cases in the US, and was one of the experts who gave evidence in the Trinity tax case in New Zealand.

In 2001 he took part in the Knowledge Wave conference in Auckland and is credited with helping found the Kiwi Ex-pat Association, known as Kea, with Stephen Tindall.

He has been reported as being the owner of Esk Head Station in North Canterbury and one of the main supporters of the controversial Hurunui Water Project.

He and his wife also own the Mt Beautiful vineyard in the Cheviot Hills.

The 2009 NBR Rich List estimated he was worth $170 million.

Documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission show Teece was the only member of LECG's board to oppose the merger. The documents state that he tried at least six times to strike a deal with private equity instead, to take the Nasdaq-listed company private.

Whether Richardson remains on the board after the merger remains to be seen. Only four of the current eight directors will continue on the new board if the merger goes ahead, but nominations for the new board have not yet been announced.

Although she is an independent director, Richardson has several links with Teece. She was a director of Canterbury in 2001 and 2002, and chaired the company in 2005 and 2006. She was also on the advisory board of his private investment company, I-cap. In July, the European arm of Canterbury was placed in administration. The brand was sold shortly afterwards to British retail giant JD Sports.

- NZ Herald

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